29/08/2017 12:26 PM AEST | Updated 29/08/2017 12:27 PM AEST

Sea Shepherd Is Calling It Quits On Japan Whaling Hunt

After 12 years of high-profile clashes over whaling, the conservation group says it can no longer compete with Japan.

Sea Shepherd is calling it quits on its 12-year ocean campaign to stop Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, saying it cannot match Tokyo's technological and economic power.

In 2005 the conservation group set out to tackle Japan's whaling fleet, sparking a decade long back-and-forth involving a fleet of ships against a concerted legislative effort in whale-hungry Japan to curb the environmentalist's ability to interrupt the whaling fleet.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said the group won't be sending a ship to the south this year, with Japan's military monitoring the group's vessels -- meaning Sea Shepherd can't get close enough to Japanese whaling ships to monitor or disrupt them.

Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
May 21, 2012: a German court released Sea Shepherd marine conservationist Paul Watson on bail after he was arrested at Frankfurt airport following a warrant by Costa Rica.

"What we discovered is that Japan is now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite and if they know where our ships are at any given moment, they can easily avoid us," Watson said in a statement.

"This year Japan escalated their resistance with the passing of new anti-terrorism laws, some of which are specifically designed to condemn Sea Shepherd tactics.

"For the first time ever, they have stated they may send their military to defend their illegal whaling activities."

Handout . / Reuters
A water canon is sprayed from a Japanese whaling ship towards a small Sea Shepherd boat, about 480 km north of Mawson Peninsula off the coast of Antarctica, in this handout picture released on January 18, 2012.

Despite not sending a ship this year, Sea Shepherd is not abandoning the area, said Watson.

"We need to cultivate the resources, the tactics and the ability to significantly shut down the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet," he said.

He accused the Australian Government of refusing to uphold international and Australian conservation law.

"Instead of supporting Sea Shepherd the Australian government has been supporting the Japanese whalers by harassing Sea Shepherd and obstructing Sea Shepherd's ability to raise funds by denying our charitable status," Watson said.

In March Japan's whaling fleet returned to Japan with 333 dead minke whales aboard.

Former chair of Sea Shepherd Australia, Bob Brown, puts the blame squarely at the feet of the Turnbull government.

"Prime Minister Turnbull has to decide if he will aid and abet the illegal slaughter of Australian-born minke whales in the International Whale Sanctuary this summer by continuing to do nothing to defend our nation's interests," the former senator and founder the Greens said.

"Both the International Court of Justice and the Australian Federal Court have found Japan's whaling illegal. Our Federal Court has issued an injunction against Japan because Tokyo is breaking Canberra laws. If this was an Australian corporation flouting our national laws the operatives would be arrested and jailed.

"By refusing to police the law, Turnbull will become part of the criminality. If he gains the backbone to send a naval vessel to defend our whales, he will get huge public support," Brown said.

In July Japan introduced new whaling laws, allowing government agencies to send whaling ships to the Southern Ocean to disrupt activists.

At the time Attorney-General George Brandis said Australia would continue to fight for whale conservation and uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Ho New / Reuters
The damaged powerboat Ady Gil, which belongs to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, floats near the Japanese ship Shonan Maru No. 2 (back) after a collision between the two vessels in the Southern Ocean January 6, 2010.

In January Sea Shepherd tracked the Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, to Southern waters and accused them of operating in an area inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

It was the second time the Japanese fleet returned to the area since the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the activities contravened the rules of the International Whaling Commission.

That case, brought by Australia, found Japan's whaling permits were not for purposes of scientific research and instructed the country to halt its program.

After calling off its 2014 hunting season, Japan made a new submission to the IWC in the lead-up to the 2015-2016 whale hunt.